You’re Advertising on YouTube (Like It or Not)

Google recently deployed another stealthy change that will have a mixed impact on the performance of countless ecommerce merchants. Your shopping ads are going to start showing on YouTube and Discover (an Android app), even if you didn't select that option.

Now, I love Google. But I do wish they would be a bit more transparent when they opt all of their customers in to new features that cost them money. This change hasn't been very well communicated, other than some hyped-up announcements back in May about new features coming soon.

What’s Changed?

At the Google Marketing Live conference in May there were a lot of interesting announcements about changes coming to Google Ads. Some of them are extremely useful for ecommerce sites and will help us drive even better performance going forward. Others, not so much.

Google has been emailing all of us to check out the Marketing Live videos for the past few months, and there are some interesting details in them. But most merchants will not view them, and everything presented in them is accompanied by the typical conference hype. Everything is amazing, and the best thing for everyone.

But not this.

If you're running Google Shopping Ads (previously known as Product Listing Ads), you have a new setting. This was added to your campaign settings about a month ago. It wasn't announced widely. In fact, if you're reading this, it's probably because you did some searches trying to understand what's changed, because it's not really documented well anywhere.

Go into the Settings for any Shopping Ads campaign. Then scroll down to the bottom, under Targeting, you'll see the setting for Networks. Notice that it now shows that your campaign is set to display on the "Google Search Network, Search Partners, Display Network"? The Display Network setting is new, and you'll notice that, when it was added, it was added with the check box checked. Shopping Ads campaigns were automatically opted in to Display Network advertising a couple of months ago.

At the time, the setting didn't really have an impact... but in July that changed.

Going forward, Google will automatically show your Shopping Ads on YouTube and the Discover app on the Display Network. Don't be surprised if in a few more months down the road, you find your Shopping Ads displaying in even more contexts that you're not aware of.

So What?

The ethical challenge here is that this change has not been communicated to advertisers well. Unless you went and watched the Google Marketing Live presentations, and read between the lines, you probably weren't informed of this change. And like many changes, there will be winners and losers. Some businesses will get some great new business from this, and for them it's really exciting because YouTube is a great platform for shoppers. But for others, this is going to waste significant portions of their budgets on wasted advertising in contexts they don't want to be in. This may even cause legal hassles for advertisers in highly regulated industries, or where contractual agreements with third parties restrict the scope of what they can advertise.

A particular concern I have is that some products may lend themselves to better results on YouTube than others. And advertisers may want to segment out their campaigns in order to have some products allowed to appear on the platform and others restricted.

What's the Risk?

Ever notice how small the controls are on YouTube ads on a mobile device? The number of accidental ad clicks is off the charts. How many times have you clicked on an ad on accident when you really tried to click "Skip Ad"? Notice how ads are displayed right by some of the main video controls on the screen? Some estimates are that the majority of ad clicks on YouTube are accidental clicks. Speaking for myself, that is certainly the case. I've clicked a few ads intentionally. I've clicked many times more than that on accident. This design is certainly not accidental. The end user just clicks back and resumes what they're doing. But the advertiser just paid the price.

Now, if you truly get good results from YouTube advertising, this is not a problem. You pay a bit of the "YouTube Tax" of inappropriate clicks, but you make money from sales, and everyone is happy. We all pay for some inappropriate clicks and fraud, but we can smile and take it if we've made the choice to do that and it's just part of the cost of doing business that we've agreed to.

What Should You Do?

Make a choice. Do you want to try it or not? If you do, then wait a month or two and then check your stats to decide if this is working for you. Look at a longer run of your performance statistics in Google Ads, and segment your Shopping Ads results by Search Network to see what things look like on the Display Network vs. the others.

But you might think it safer to opt out by default, and do some controlled experiments to see if this will work or not. To opt out, go into the Settings of each of your Shopping Ads campaigns. Under Targeting you'll see the setting for Networks. Click that, and deselect "YouTube and Discover on Display Network".

If you opt out, though, do consider that if you don't have policy reasons to avoid Display Network advertising, your business may be one where it works well. You don't know until you try. We do think this is a great expansion of the feature set for those who can benefit from it. We would encourage you to test this out in a controlled way, to decide if you should be pushing your ecommerce Shopping Ads to YouTube or not.

This is the approach we're taking with our clients. Test the change to understand which situations and products it works for, and which it doesn't. Then we can make better decisions that drive the results our clients want to see.

If you'd like to have someone keeping an eye on these changes for you and helping you navigate them, contact us.

Psyberware specializes in managing online advertising for ecommerce businesses, and nothing else. If you want to build a great relationship with a group of dedicated people who really understand ecommerce, get in touch with us.

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